Saturday, October 24, 2009

Suicide in Japan

Last year a suicide epidemic swept through Japan. Hundreds of Japanese killed themselves by mixing ordinary household chemicals to create a cloud of poison gas that often injured others and forced the evacuation of homes and apartment buildings.

A USA Today report told this grim story:

The 517 self-inflicted deaths by hydrogen sulfide poisoning this year are part of a bigger, grimmer story: Nearly 34,000 Japanese killed themselves last year, according to the Japanese national police. That's the second-highest toll ever in a country where the suicide rate is ninth highest in the world and more than double that of the USA, the World Health Organization says.
Japan has long been known as a "nation of suicide," notes sociologist Kayoko Ueno at University of Tokushima. Samurai warriors famously chose seppuku — disemboweling themselves — over surrender. Japanese kamikaze pilots crashed their planes into targets during World War II.

"Suicide is not considered a sin," says sociologist Masahiro Yamada of Chuo University in Tokyo. "We've made it a bit of a virtue."

Authorities are alarmed now that suicide has reached epidemic levels.

• A decade of weak economic growth and the unraveling of Japan's system of lifetime employment have left many middle-age and elderly men unemployed and in financial ruin. Among Japanese suicides, nearly 71% are men, more than 73% are 40 or older, and more than 57% are jobless.

For an unemployed, former "salaryman," suicide can be "a rational decision," Yamada says.

When a man commits suicide in Japan, his beneficiaries can still collect his life insurance. And insurers pay off Japanese home mortgages when a family's breadwinner dies — even if the death is a suicide. "If he dies, the rest of the family gets money," Yamada says. "If he continues to live without a job, they will lose the house."

• The Internet has allowed young, depressed Japanese to get suicide tips and find others with whom they can enter into death pacts.

A few years ago, suicidal Japanese were meeting each other online, driving out into the countryside, shutting themselves up in the back of vans and killing themselves in clouds of carbon monoxide by burning charcoal briquettes. "People really want to be connected. People got together to die," says anti-suicide activist Koji Tsukino, 43.

Read the full report here.

It seems apparent that where suicide is glorified the number of cases increases. Consider suicide bombers who kill themselves and others believing this an honorable end. It is also evident that despair about one's future is a contributing factor.

Only Greenland has a higher incidence of suicide for population. Read about that here.

For resources in coping with suicidal thoughts, go here.


Unknown said...

I am a JSCCP clinical psychologist and JFP psychotherapist working in Japan for over 20 years. I would like to put forward a perspective on some of the main reasons behind the unacceptably high suicide numbers Japan and so will limit my comments to what I know about here in Japan but would first like to suggest that western media reports on suicide rates in Japan should try harder to get away from the tendency to ‘orientalize’ the serious and preventable problem of increased suicide rates here over the last 10 years by reverting to stereotypical ideas of Japanese people in general.

Mental health professionals in Japan have long known that the reason for the unnecessarily high suicide rate in Japan is due to unemployment, bankruptcies, and the increasing levels of stress on businessmen and other salaried workers who have suffered enormous hardship in Japan since the bursting of the stock market bubble here that peaked around 1997. Until that year Japan had annual suicide of rate figures between 22,000 and 24,000 each year. Following the bursting of the stock market and the long term economic downturn that has followed here since the suicide rate in 1998 increased by around 35% and since 1998 the number of people killing themselves each year in Japan has consistently remained well over 30,000 each and every year to the present day.

The current worldwide recession is of course impacting Japan too, so unless the new administration initiates very proactive and well funded local and nationwide suicide prevention programs and other mental health care initiatives, including tackling the widespread problem of clinical depression suffered by so many of the general population, it is very difficult to foresee the previous government's stated target to reduce the suicide rate to around 23,000 by the year 2016 as being achievable. On the contrary the numbers, and the human suffering and the depression and misery that the people who become part of these numbers, have to endure may well stay at the current levels that have persistently been the case here for the last ten years. It could even get worse unless even more is done to prevent this terrible loss of life.

During these last ten years of these relentlessly high annual suicide rate numbers the English media seems in the main to have done little more than have someone goes through the files and do a story on the so-called suicide forest or internet suicide clubs and copycat suicides (whether cheap heating fuel like charcoal briquettes or even cheaper household cleaning chemicals) without focusing on the bigger picture and need for effective action and solutions.
Economic hardship, bankruptcies and unemployment have been the main cause of suicide in Japan over the last 10 years, as the well detailed reports behind the suicide rate numbers that have been issued every year until now by the National Police Agency in Japan show only to clearly if any journalist is prepared to learn Japanese or get a bilingual researcher to do the research to get to the real heart of the tragic story of the long term and unnecessarily high suicide rate problem in Japan.

I would also like to suggest that as many Japanese people have very high reading skills in English that any articles (or works of fiction which I appreciate this is) dealing with suicide in Japan could usefully provide contact details for hotlines and support services for people who are depressed and feeling suicidal.

Useful telephone numbers and links for Japanese residents of Japan who speak Japanese and are feeling depressed or suicidal:
Inochi no Denwa (Lifeline Telephone Service):
Japan: 0120-738-556
Tokyo: 3264 4343

Tokyo Counseling Services

Alice C. Linsley said...

Thank you for your excellent comment. It is helpful and I wondered if the western media wasn't overplaying the oriental angle of this.

This could happen anywhere and likely will happen in other countries when the economies leave the older populations without adequate resources to survive.